Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was shifted from its normal first Saturday in May place on the calendar to Sept. 5, while the Preakness Stakes was postponed until Oct. 3. The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets kicked off the 2020 Triple Crown June 20 at the shortened distance of 1 1/8 miles, and Tiz the Law delivered a dominant victory in New York.
Authentic then outfinished Tiz the Law to win the Kentucky Derby, and this week we’ll take a look at his chances to add a Preakness Stakes win to his résumé. Because I previously profiled Authentic in depth, let’s focus on Authentic as a probable Preakness favorite.
Rather than go into extended detail on connections and pedigree here as I did in the previous Making the Grade post on Authentic, I’ll focus on ability and running style here as it pertains to Authentic’s chances in the Preakness.
Ability: With five wins in six starts and his lone defeat a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, Authentic has developed into a rising star with 3-year-old credentials that place him in the running (with arguably the inside track) for an Eclipse Award along with Tiz the Law.
There was some concern that the Grade 3 Sham Stakes and Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes winner might have peaked too early when he ducked out at the start in the Santa Anita Derby and ran a somewhat flat race when second to Honor A. P. He regressed from a 113 Equibase Speed Figure for the one-mile Sham and a 105 for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe down to a 101 for the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, which also raised questions about his ability to excel as the races got longer.
Authentic dispelled the former concern with a front-running win by a nose in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes July 18 at Monmouth Park, but the fact that he barely held off a late-surging Ny Traffic led to intensification of the distance questions.
There was no doubt the Haskell was a nice bounce-back effort from Authentic. The 109 Equibase Speed Figure was back near his top and he earned a terrific 107 BRISnet speed rating as well as a 121 TimeForm US rating and 100 Beyer Speed Figure. But distance concerns remained … until 2:00.61 after the starting gates opened in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Authentic set a solid pace through a testing opening half-mile in 46.41 seconds and still had enough stamina in reserve to turn away Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and Runhappy Travers Stakes winner Tiz the Law in the Churchill Downs stretch.
He paired his 109 Equibase Speed Figure from the Haskell, improved his Beyer Speed Figure five points to a 105 and his TimeForm US rating eight points to a 129, and recorded a 104 BRISnet rating.
The final time of 2:00.61 was the fastest since Monarchos in 2001, although this year’s race was held after this crop of 3-year-olds had an additional four months to mature and develop. A 3-year-old in September is much different than a 3-year-old in May.
Most importantly, Authentic showed in the Kentucky Derby he has the stamina and tenacity to be a major player in Grade 1 races at 1 ¼ miles, and he should be perhaps even more formidable shortening back to 1 3/16 miles for the Preakness.
Given a nearly flawless record and four weeks rest this year between the Derby and the Preakness, Authentic appears poised to run another big race at Pimlico. Other than the TimeForm US speed rating, he did not take a monster jump that might indicate he would very likely regress off his Derby win; however, you have to at least consider that a big effort like that could have taken something out of him.
Running style: There seems to be a strong preconception about the Preakness that speed rules and front-running types dominate. While tactical speed has been valuable, the results of the race include only four winners in the last 20 years that led after a half-mile, although three of those pacesetters won in the last seven runnings of the race.
On average, Preakness winners have been within 3 ½ lengths of the pace and only once in the last 12 years was the winner more than five lengths back after a half-mile: Exaggerator in 2016.
I don’t view Authentic as an absolute need-the-lead type, although he does appear to be at his best when setting the pace, but I would be shocked if he is not at least pressing the pace from the top three in the Preakness.
Connections: Authentic was a $350,000 purchase by the partnership of SF Bloodstoock and Starlight West at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale during the eighth of 13 sessions – a bit of a diamond in the rough deep in the auction and the second-highest-priced yearling of that session. Several owners have bought in and others have left the ownership contingent since then, but the group that raced Authentic on Kentucky Derby day was B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, MyRaceHorse Stable, Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables, and Jack and Laurie Wolf’s Starlight Racing. MyRaceHorse Stable is a micro-share partnership group headed by Michael Behrens, which owns 12.5% of the colt.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has amassed four Eclipse Awards and won 16 U.S. Triple Crown races during his illustrious career. Baffert’s five Kentucky Derby winners before Authentic were Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), War Emblem (2002), Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015), and Triple Crown winner Justify (2018). Baffert has won the Preakness six times.
Drayden Van Dyke, Mike Smith, and John Velazquez have ridden Authentic, with Van Dyke aboard for his first four races, Smith winning the Haskell, and Velazquez guiding him to victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Pedigree: Authentic is from the eighth crop of Into Mischief, the leading general sire of 2019 with $18,916,923 in progeny earnings. A 15-year-old by Harlan’s Holiday, Into Mischief ranked fourth on the general sire list in 2018.
Into Mischief won three times and finished second three times in six career starts, including the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in 2007.
He got off to a very nice start at stud and ranked third on the first-crop sire list in 2012, the first year his younger half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) Beholder won her first of four Eclipse Awards. Another half-sibling, Mendelssohn, subsequently won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and suddenly Into Mischief not only had the on-track results as a sire but a very fashionable pedigree.
Into Mischief ranks first on the general sire list in 2020 with progeny earnings of more than $12.3 million through Sept. 14. He has multiple runners who showed they could excel around two turns, but a Kentucky Derby winner sure bolsters the résumé.
Authentic is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Flawless, who won her career debut at seven-eighths of a mile and then ran second in her second and final race going a mile. His grandam (maternal grandmother), Oyster Baby, was unraced, while his third dam (maternal great-grandmother) was Grade 3-winning sprinter Really Fancy, by In Reality.
With proven ability to win Grade 1 races at 1 1/8 miles and 1 ¼ miles, there is little doubt that Authentic has the stamina to win the Preakness. He’s also an elite talent and I would not expect him to turn in a clunker. If he loses on Preakness day, most likely it will be because another top contender like Tiz the Law or Art Collector comes through with an “A” race and beats him.